Monday, many people around the world will celebrate the life and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Atlanta-born civil rights leader who inspired millions in the 1960s with his dream of equal opportunity for all.
Yet as we honor his life, we should reflect that King’s hopes went beyond improving the lives of African Americans.
He wanted all people to share in the bounty of the American dream, and it was reflected in much of his oratory — but nowhere better than in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood," King said.
What’s more, at a time when many in both the black and white communities used violence to further their goals, this son of Georgia and Nobel prize winner remained committed to the better angels of human nature.
"Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon," he said, "which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals."
Ultimately, and though he himself was murdered in the process, King’s desire for peace and his appeal to fair-minded men and women of all races helped build a better world.
One wonders what he would think of our times now, were he still alive.
Would he rejoice to see an African-American president? Or that many people of color have risen to positions of great responsibility in both public and private life?
We think he would. But we also believe he would say that his dream has yet to be fully realized. Far too many of the same ills that plagued his time continue to rear their ugly heads in our time. There is too much poverty, too much racism — practiced by people of all colors against those who look or act differently — and too little understanding that what we allow to separate us makes us poorer, not richer.
Perhaps that will never change, but we hold on to hope that it will. If not in our lifetime, perhaps in the lifetime of our children, or their children. What matters is that we continue to try to reach King’s dream, because to give up is not really an option. Or, as King put it:
"We may have all come on different ships. But we’re in the same boat now."
Bryan County News
Jan. 16, 2010